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New book tells story of Redfern as epicentre of Aboriginal activism

Rachael Knowles -

Redfern: Aboriginal Activism in the 1970s is the untold story of First Nations resistance, resilience and self-determination born just a stone's throw away from Sydney CBD.

The 1970s in Redfern saw the establishment of many of the familiar Aboriginal organisations known today; it saw the movement of Aboriginal families to the state capital and holds the roots of the Aboriginal activism seen in the streets today.

Activist, academic and founder of the Aboriginal Legal Service, an organisation referenced in the book, Professor Gary Foley noted the importance of the story told in Redfern: Aboriginal Activism in the 1970s.

"It's an important and timely book. The issues that triggered the outburst of creative political dissent in Redfern in the 1970s are still with us today," he said.

The book is written by Dr Johanna Perheentupa. Originally from Finland, Dr Perheentupa has a strong academic background in Aboriginal Indigenous politics. She lectures in Indigenous Studies at the University of New South Wales.

Dr Perheentupa came to Australia as a backpacker while she was studying her undergraduate degree in Cultural History.

"I knew nothing about Australian history which meant, I had a lot to learn," she said.

"I didn't grow up with a sense of a settler colonial background ... and I wasn't familiar with the British empire. I became curious and as I travelled, I went to every museum and art gallery I could find.

"I became fascinated with Aboriginal cultures and histories and particularly the eastern seaboard."

Dr Perheentupa had a keen interest in the 1960s and 1970s in Australia.

"The 1970s saw the rise of a younger generation of passionate Aboriginal leaders and intellectuals, who understood and articulated what needed to be done. It was a period of significant change for Aboriginal people and for the nation," she said.

"Redfern became home for many Indigenous Australians in the '70s, and many people remain connected to this important place."

Redfern: Aboriginal Activism in the 1970s is based off Dr Perheentupa's PhD, a journey which saw her realise the realities of some academic understandings.

"I was asked when I started on this topic, 'When do you go to the Northern Territory?' But I'm doing research on Redfern? I was faced with that very early on, the idea of what you should do when you research Indigenous topics," she said.

"In fairness that has changed as things have moved. Particularly now with more and more Indigenous academics working in the field.

"As I was writing I was very aware the entire time of the Aboriginal people who would read the book ... that was my audience, not academics so much."

Author and academic, Dr Johanna Perheentupa. Photo supplied by AIATSIS.

Dr Perheentupa hopes this book can be one more piece to the puzzle that is understanding the nation's history, and myth-busting mainstream understandings.

"I do see it very much as part of that puzzle. Understanding that 50 years ago when the Aboriginal Legal Service was set up Aboriginal people in Redfern were fighting these issues and trying to find ways to tackle them," she said.

"Today we have similar problems ... even First Nations lawyers working with Walama Court and the push back from the government against that.

"It's a continuation of the same fight. Trying to find new ways to solve the problem that is still the same. I do see it as an ongoing struggle since colonisation in terms of fighting for self-determination, sovereignty and finding a voice."

Australian Institute for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) CEO, Craig Ritchie praised the book and the story it tells.

"Redfern was the epicentre for Aboriginal activism, where mob came together seeking recognition and equality in health, education and justice," he said.

"Those of us who are doing anything to bring about change for our people today stand on the shoulders of these giants."

Redfern: Aboriginal Activism in the 1970s, is a release by Aboriginal Studies Press (ASP), AIATSIS' publishing arm.

Purchase Redfern: Aboriginal Activism in the 1970s via ASP's online store, international distributors or bookstores across Australia.

By Rachael Knowles


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